tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera January 21, 2016 3:30pm-4:01pm EST
with genes. >> this is what innovation looks like. >> i feel like we're making an impact. >> let's do it. >> techknow, where technology meets humanity. only on al jazeera america. >> each year, nearly 12 million arrests are made in the united states. >> is this pretty full for you guys? >> no, no this is just average, i guess you could say. >> okay. >> that's the population of los angeles and new york combined, booked into thousands of local jails. >> do you know how long some of these men have been held here? >> mmmm. i don't, off the top of my head, i don't. >> okay. >> how long have you been in
here. >> since june the 6th of last year. >> so over a year? >> yes ma'am. >> almost half a million people in jail today are pretrial, just waiting their turn to go through the system. >> i was arrested may the 13th of last year. and and i didn't get indicted until april 2nd of the next year. >> i think it should be against the law that they hold you that long before they indict you. >> basic constitutional rights - the right to a speedy trial, the right to an attorney, and the right to fair bail are meant to prevent arbitrary or indefinite detention and ensure the scales of justice are balanced. >> what kind of advice have you gotten from the public defenders? >> nothing. take the plea. >> but what kind of justice does the system offer? >> and how do you plead? >> i plead guilty sir. >> and why do so many end up lost in the system?
>> what's it like looking at rikers now? >> that's hell on earth right there... this is as worse as it gets. next worst place after that is the graveyard. >> what were you thinking when you were inside? >> am i going to be able to have a future outside of this? am i going to be home with my family? >> in 2007, donovan drayton was accused of murder. he was sent to new york's rikers island jail to await trial. for his father, ronny drayton, it was a nightmare. >> you would stand right here and look across? >> yes, i would. >> what would you ask for? what was your hope? >> just to give me my baby back. simple as that, you know? >> neither donovan nor his
father had any idea how long the wait would be. >> i looked outside my window and i see the triborough bridge. and i just started crying. i was like, damn. would i ever drive across that bridge again? will i ever go across that bridge again? it's like whew, i called my father and i was like damn dad, like the view i have is so nice. but am i going to be in that view like any time soon? you know what i'm saying? >> and what did i say? >> you said "of course you will be, man". >> you know you have this thing, you see law & order on tv you know they have the trial, he has a section, they go to court, they do this and that's it. >> it happens nothing like the movies now. >> no, no, no, no, no, no. they don't, they don't... >> what's the biggest difference? >> time. >> time man, time is like... >> everything is elongated.
>> we met donovan in the queens neighborhood where he grew up. >> we're just at the scene of the crime with ronny and donovan, they are gong to explain what happened here. >> this is where it all started. this is where it all went downhill for me. the worst day of my life. >> on october 1st, 2007, donovan came to this house with two men who, he says, were looking to buy some marijuana. >> i came to just make a couple of bucks, smoke some weed, and go home. i mean, you know, that wasn't the best thing i was doin' but that wasn't robbery and murder. >> donovan says the men told him they had to pick up money from a friend here. but what he says he didn't know is that the men had previously robbed anthony wright, who lived at the house. when anthony saw them, he ran upstairs and fired a first shot from the window. >> he shot with an assault rifle? >> with an assault rifle... very loud booms.
>> donovan says he was tossed a gun. and that it was the first time he had held a firearm. >> i got scared, i let off one shot in the air and it gave me enough time to retreat and to get away. but for me to be accused of bein' down with all this stuff that was going on, it's a dead lie man. dead lie. >> anthony's friend who was on the front steps, was killed in the crossfire. police arrested the two men, and donovan. it was a serious charge. despite having no criminal record, donovan was denied bail and sent to rikers. he said he was innocent, but would have to wait to make his case to a jury. >> it's crazy 'cause i'm 19. then my 20th birthday comes. then my 21st birthday come. by the time my 23rd birthday came, i was just like, "alright man, we here, man".
>> the prosecutor offered him a deal: plead guilty and serve 18 years behind bars. >> at that moment you must have felt so much pressure. >> i was in the courtroom cryin'... you had those moments where it's just like the world is just squeezing you squeezing you squeezing you and squeezing you. >> it wasn't just the plea. it was the psychological part to create the situation to take the plea. >> the judge encouraged donovan to take the deal. >> what did he say what happened if you decided to go to trial? >> he said that if i went to trial, and if i lost, that he would make sure, i would put emphasis on... i'll never forget he saying, he said, "i will make sure you, mr. drayton, you'll be getting 28 to life". >> the offer wasn't unusual. 95 percent of felony convictions in the u.s. are a result of plea deals. >> and i had considered it only because i was scared.
not because i did it, but because i was genuinely scared, like if i do take this gamble with my life, i may never get back these years that i'm goin' to lose. >> donovan bucked the trend and didn't take the deal. he told the judge he would go to trial. >> this is us in battle. in battle. we were at war right here. >> (guitar strum) hey everybody, rd here, we got this guitar i wanna put up for sale. it's for donovan's defense fund. we need the money for the lawyers and what not... i sold almost every guitar i owned. >> ronny, a musician, organized benefit concerts and raised tens of thousands of dollars for his son's legal defense. >> and i want you to put your fists up... we are donovan drayton... donovan drayton. >> in 2011 donovan's case went to trial. the case against him hinged on testimony from the other men at äì testimony they gave in exchange for favorable
pleas. donovan was acquitted of 3 major counts, including intentional murder. but the jury was hung on several others. donovan was again denied bail by the queens court, and sent back to rikers to wait for a new trial. >> they wanted to make it seem like the kid was a throwaway. how many kids have they thrown away? it's an assembly line. they do this to guys, they do this to families. they drain their money, they drain their relationships. they drain their children, they put fear in people. they do it every day. >> after years in pretrial detention, ronny was desperate to get donovan released. he turned to this man. >> he had been in for almost 5 years... to me, it violated the presumption of innocence that every defendant is supposed to have when they are charged with a crime. >> michael warren, a well know criminal defense attorney, challenged donovan's denial of bail in a state court. >> they were outraged,
particularly the presiding justice, but they were outraged and they asked questions... well, you know, "how long has your client been in"? "well he has been in for approximately 5 years". "does he have a prior record"? "no he doesn't have a prior record". "and you say that there has been a trial"? "yes there has been a trial". and one of the judges said, "you mean to tell me, that bail is still not fixed by the judge out there"? and i said "yes judge, this is what i am telling you". >> in july of 2013 donovan was finally acquitted of all counts but one , a weapons charge for the gun he had at the scene. after 6 years, the case was over. in all, donovan spent 5 years in rikers pretrial. >>i am ronald drayton's son. i am the one that he has been fightin' for for 5 years. (audience clapping and cheering) i wanted to tell you sincerely
from myself... from my heart, thank you so much. >> he wouldn't take the plea! >> i have things about me that jail helped form... you get mental scars from this. sometimes they're not all physical. sometimes they are both... but the most damaging ones are the mental scars. they are the ones that never leave you alone. i would never think that i would have to spend all that time in prison for the truth to come out. >> they thought we would just lie down and say "yes, boss, we give up". no, because it's still innocent 'til proven guilty.
non-violent crimes. they're locked up because they can't afford bail. here in mississippi, there is no time limit on detention before indictment... indictment is the next step for a defendant, when the district attorney presents evidence to the grand jury. >> once the grand jury makes a determination of whether there is enough evidence to indict you, or not indict you. then they are given a court date. >> and how long does that typically take? >> it depends. >> here, like in many rural parts of the country, a grand jury is in session only a few times a year. >> how many of you all have been here for more than one grand jury term, that has not went through indictment? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... >> hi, how are you doing? >> i'm alright. >> and what's your name? >> willie nicks. >> why were you arrested? >> they arrest me for accessory after the fact of burglary.
>> what does that mean? >> saying i knew something about it but didn't call the police i guess. that's the only thing i get out of it. >> how long have you been in here? >> 11 months, two and a half weeks... in a week from today it'll be a year. >> why haven't you been indicted? lack of evidence, i feel... i don't know why i'm still here. >> do you feel like you have anyone giving you advice? >> no ma'am, i don't. >> do you think that's normal? >> no ma'am. i don't know much about the law, but i know that ain't right. the little bit i do know, i know that's not right. >> the constitution guarantees a right to an attorney. but inmates who can't afford one are told they must wait until after indictment to be appointed a public defender. >> we're in the scott county courthouse. this is where inmates after months of waiting, after they
have been indicted, come here to see a judge. >> all rise... judge marcus gordon presiding. >> good evening. >> judge gordon is the senior judge in scott county, mississippi and 3 other counties. >> again i ask you, do you want me to continue in this plea that you offered? >> yes sir. >> you trust the judge, is that right? >> yes sir. >> the day we went to court, every inmate pled guilty. in a holding cell behind the courtroom, we had a few minutes to speak to the men. >> in order to have a preliminary hearing, you must have your own lawyer. you must have your own paid lawyer. in order to have a preliminary hearing. if you want to have your bond dropped, you have to have a paid lawyer. in order to do anything, you must have a paid lawyer. >> who was it, and when, did someone first tell you you have to wait until indictment to see your public defender? >> the investigator. >> he come down to the zone, and
he tells us... he just said, "that's just the way scott county works". >> he said "scott county makes its own rules". >> there are no full time public defenders in scott county. instead, a handful of private attorneys appointed by judge gordon take cases on a part-time basis. none of the local attorneys would speak with us on camera. so we went to jackson, the state capital. >> how many people know what their rights are unless they're given an attorney that tells them what their rights are? so it's almost like a catch 22. >> mississippi is one of just 7 states that doesn't have a state-funded public defense system for misdemeanors and felonies. leslie lee's office only handles appeals, death penalty cases, and public defender training. >> do you know how many people are sitting in jail, without having spoken to an attorney? >> oh i'm sure the number is quite large. but i have no idea. it's frightening. >> does anyone keep track of that? >> the challenges are we have 82 counties. 82 different ways that they keep the data.
82 different ways that they appoint public defenders. >> so why is it that in scott county indigent defendants can't see an attorney until after they are indicted? >> that's a very good question. we don't know why. it shouldn't be that way. >> who has oversight over how the justice system works in the counties right now? >> the judges. >> we're going to see judge gordon. this is the man that many people hold responsible for keeping people in jail for months without access to a lawyer. >> we met a few defendants yesterday, just being here a few days, went into the jail and spoke to a number of inmates who say they have been waiting to speak to an attorney for nearly a year. >> well that's not right. i know that's not right. but i don't know when that happens. i never know who is in jail. >> they said investigators told
them its your policy to wait until after they are indicted before they can see --. >> when they prove that they are indigent and cannot afford to hire a lawyer. >> at what point do they have to prove that they are indigent? >> at the time of the indictment, at which time i will appoint them an attorney. >> but,you know, they're spending months before speaking to counsel. >> well that may be true. that's the hardship of the criminal system. >> are their rights being violated? >> lady, the criminal system is a system of criminals. sure their rights are violated. but not all rights are violated, that you're calling violation. >> with the help of the civil rights group the aclu, some inmates caught in this system sued judge gordon and the county last year - for indefinite detention and not appointing public defenders. >> why is it so important to have an attorney? >> well, if i put you in that
room and i lock that door and i shut it you can't get out without a key... so how important is it to have a key? you got nobody on your side, once from handcuffs all the way in, you've got nobody on your side. you're screwed. you're screwed. it's nothing you can do. i've seen people sittin' there for ten, eleven months and not even knowing why they was in jail. >> what do you want to accomplish with the lawsuit? >> that everybody that's arrested on a felony charge they get their attorney. and i'm not talking about an attorney that'll come to 'em and say well this is probably what they'll try to give you. i'm talking about an attorney that will go in there and say hey look, really go through the case and investigate it, do the math, take their side. because really they're innocent until they're proven guilty. >> after 8 months in jail, the first lawyer joshua met was brandon buskey, from the aclu. days after the suit was filed, joshua was released.
>> what's illegal is the idea that you could keep somebody in jail for...8 months in josh's case, and affirmatively deny them the ability to talk to a lawyer for that entire period of time. that effectively denies them any opportunity to challenge what is happening to them. it is beyond the pale to think that that kind of system would meet constitutional muster. >> in august of 2015, the charges against willie nicks were dismissed. but after spending 14 months in the scott county jail, he'd lost both his job and his home. >> you're not garbage. they just throw you in there and they forget about you. they don't care, they don't care. >> did you feel like that? >> yeah. still do. you're not innocent until proven guilty. and even when you're proven innocent they still think you're guilty.
>> all across the country, jails are overcrowded with inmates who are pretrial. most of them will rely on public defenders. here in california, where bail costs an estimated five times more than the rest of the country, it's a struggle to keep up with the volume. >> what's your name, sir? >> my name is dj brickey, i'm an attorney with the public defender's office. >> what's your social security number, sir? >> here's the deal sir, as your attorney, i'm trying to get you out of jail, trying to get the best result possible for you. >> so this is pretty relentless. you're just coming in and out in and out? >> absolutely, yeah. absolutely. >> this is what every day is like? >> mhmm. >> the fresno county public defenders' office is one of the busiest in the u.s. dj brickey has been working here
for 3 years. >> i'm not sure i'm going to be able to get you out of custody today. i can make the request. if the judge denies it, you're going to be stuck in there unless you can bail out. the judge is going to set bail today. it's probably going to be around 70,000 bucks. okay? i'll make the request. ok? your honor, we ask the court to consider that he supports 4 children as well as a significant other, we ask the court to take that into consideration. >> attorneys like brickey are also asking the county for more who have everything on the line. >> and how does that affect their lives being stuck in jail? >> it's awful. it's terrible... some of these guys are the sole breadwinners for their houses. it's difficult. they lose jobs. they lose family members. they are not able to go to services if we can't get them out. it's tough. very tough. >> and this is all just while they're waiting for their trials? >> that's right. >> and only because they can't make bail? >> typically yes. >> how many cases do you have typically? >> i'm hovering around 300. >> 300 cases? >> 300 cases.
>> that is a lot of cases. >> it is a lot of cases. >> how do you keep up? i mean it sounds like an incredible amount of work. >> you have to be efficient. you have to prioritize. you have to be organized, and you have to be devoted. you have to return phone calls. you have to keep up. sometimes, i get emotional just talking about it. sometimes we are all these guys got. they have no money, no family, an addiction, and no one fighting for them. >> do you need to talk to this gentleman? >> i do. >> i'm going to talk to you in just a moment i have to do another hearing real quick, i'll be back in 5 minutes, ok? >> yeah, what do you got there man? >> this is about a violation of your ab109 probation. >> i haven't gotten out yet. >> i'll tell you all about it in a second, sir, ok? i'll talk to you about it in a second, sir. i have to do this hearing. >> alright. >> there's a huge crowd of people waiting to get into the fresno county courthouse. we've been told this is a typical volume for the county. >> 64 public defenders handle over 33,000 cases each year.
a fourth of fresno's population lives at or below the poverty line if they get in trouble with the law, a private attorney is not an easy option. in the years after the 2008 financial crisis, public defense was hit hard by budget cuts. >> so this is where all the decisions about the money get made? >> right. right here. >> henry perea sits on the county board of supervisors. after a round of cuts, the county's chief public defender warned the office would have to start turning away cases. >> as a board majority we understood, we took them to bare bones, and we took them below bare bones. >> but years later, the county was still struggling. scott baly is the president of the public defenders union. >> the lawyers got together and signed this letter, and sent it to our boss and said we can't go on like this anymore. something has to change. >> more than three dozen public defenders signed the letter saying they were jeopardizing
their client's constitutional rights on a daily basis. >> the constitution doesn't guarantee a right to lawyers for just rich people. the constitution guarantees a right to effective counsel for everyone accused of a crime. unless the office is adequately funded, that guarantee has less of a meaning. we have an adversarial system of justice. you can't just fund one side and not the other. >> scott told us their efforts led to some improvements. but supervisor perea admits there is still an imbalance. >> have you requested more money from the state? is this a question of just not having enough funding? >> it's a question of not having enough funding, number 1. but number 2, is when we get the funding that it go to the priorities that quote, a collective board would have. i think right now, unless we received money from the state that was earmarked for the
public defenders, it would be a tough fight. i think those who have money, those who have resources, are going to get a different level of justice than someone who doesn't. i think that's just the reality. >> i think most rights do get violated on a daily basis. simply because we aren't paying enough attention to what is happening prior to trial. that is true in california, it's true in new york, it's true in mississippi, it's true everywhere. so it's not about how you treat criminals. it is about how you treat poor people. and that is the real failing in this system. >> what do you think about all the people in there right now? >> i think some is guilty. i think some is innocent. but i think every one of them is helpless because of the fact that they don't get an attorney, you know? >> yeah.
>> i was fortunate because i had a good support system. i had people that actually cared about me, who actually loved me, who actually wanted to see the truth persevere and come out, you know? not to mention the financial aspect of it because the reality of it, if you don't have any money, you're finished.
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